Learning in motion

A day in the life of a community teacher: Pamela Oddis travels around the state to teach children who are blind how to navigate safely and independently

A student pushing a grocery cart in a supermarket with an itinerant teacher

Perkins instructor Pamela Oddis teaches public school students who are blind how to navigate safely, using as her “classroom” everything from city streets to grocery store aisles.

May 5, 2016

Pamela Oddis covers a lot of ground in a typical day.

As an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist for Perkins School for the Blind, Oddis travels to school districts throughout central Massachusetts to work one-on-one with public school students who are blind.

Each day, Oddis teaches students how to navigate the world safely and independently – using school hallways, grocery store aisles and city streets as her classroom.

Here is a glimpse into a day in the life of a Perkins community teacher.

10 a.m. – Elementary school

Pamela Oddis has her first lesson of the day with Cheyenne, 3, a pre-kindergartner with low vision who is learning how to navigate her school hallways. 

Pamela Oddis shows 3-year-old Cheyenne a location photo on an iPad.

Using an iPad, Oddis shows Cheyenne a picture of a specific location in the school, and asks Cheyenne to find it. Oddis often incorporates accessible technology into her lessons, which not only reinforces O&M skills but introduces students to tools they can use later in life, such as GPS and mapping. 

Pamela Oddis high-fives her student Cheyenne.

Oddis gives Cheyenne a high-five after Cheyenne successfully reaches her destination.

12:30 p.m. – Local supermarket

Oddis arrives at the local grocery store, where she meets 18-year-old Isais, a high school student from Athol, Massachusetts. Oddis works with Isais as he walks up and down the store aisles to find specific food items on his brailled shopping list.

18-year-old Isais picks up a gallon of milk in the supermarket.

Isais picks up a gallon of milk, one of the items on his shopping list.

During O&M lessons, Oddis coaches students to use all of their senses. “Do you smell anything?” she asks Isais, as they walk past the seafood section. “Yes,” says Isais, and the two laugh about the distinct aroma of fish. “This is a good landmark,” said Oddis. “Now you know where you are in the supermarket.” Oddis continues on with the lesson, noting different sensory cues that Isais can use while traveling through the grocery store. 

3:00 p.m. – Main Street

Oddis assigns a mission to 12-year-old Kane. She gives him a list of addresses on Main Street and asks him to find each one.  This skill will help Kane understand how city blocks and addresses are organized, which will make it easier for him to navigate city and town streets. 

Pamela Oddis points to a street address as 12-year-old Kane observes.

With a list of addresses on Main Street, Kane uses his partial vision to scan the city block for address numbers. Oddis patiently waits for Kane to figure it out on his own, and them gently prompts him with questions and suggestions. “So this is an even number, right?” asks Oddis, as she points to the street address of a local business. Kane realizes that he needs to cross the road to find the addresses with odd numbers.

Kane uses his white cane to cross Main Street with Pamela Oddis.

Kane leads the way, sweeping his cane side to side as he and Oddis safely cross Main Street.

“Orientation and mobility is a big piece of overall development and quality of life,” said Oddis. “It allows children and adults to feel independent and physically safe. People can carry themselves with confidence.”

Even after 22 years as an O&M instructor, Oddis is just as passionate about teaching as she was her first day on the job.

“When a student finally does a route on their own, the look on their face is irreplaceable!” she said.